sweet boy by Riley Moore is appropriately lower-cased in its title. This is a low-key effort in every way except the massive payoff. In four songs, three interludes (two of them humorous), and one demo, Moore puts his engaging voice, delicate melodies, and easygoing persona on full, impressive display without ever sounding like he’s working too hard. Yet the impact of this carefully curated space is very strong.
Moore’s singer/songwriter approach is intimate and deceptively hi-fi. He evokes the moods of lo-fi, bedroom folk but the production goals of early Tallest Man on Earth: the notes from the guitar of Mattson and Moore seem to jump pristinely, untranslated and unruffled, out of the speakers at you. Even though background noise plays prominently in opener “a hundred and fifty,” the recording is about as bright and clear as it can be. It sounds like Moore is sitting there in the room with you, working his magic. (Full disclosure: I can say this with confidence because I have actually been in the same room with Moore: Moore played my house as part of The Walking Guys.) This is the best track on the record, as the aching sonics just can’t be ignored. “Gold” is equally intimate, with his delicate guitar playing and uber-comfy vocal tone creating a satisfying, deeply nostalgic vibe.
None of these tracks are truly guitar and voice (except the demo); they have spartan touches here and there to accentuate Moore’s voice and guitar. “Mansion”–the only track that feels fully fleshed-out, and also, meaningfully, the only song title that is capitalized–develops this tendency. The swooping electric guitar, the subtle pedal steel, and the shuffle snare beat give this my-girl-rejected-me song a tasteful country grandeur that elevates the lyrics. The lyrics here are all your-mileage-may-vary sad takes on relationships, but with the arrangement here Moore reaches up toward fitting in next to Rocky Votolato’s elegant, dignified sadness.
While “Mansion” feels done, that doesn’t mean that it’s the loudest. “stones” starts small but ratchets up to Manchester Orchestra levels of guitar crash and angsty yowl. It’s a great cut with the best line of the record (“I hope I’m damned / if I ever do wrong by you / I hope I’m damned if I do,” leaving the “damned if I don’t” punchline hanging out there unspoken, floating, emotionally punishing in its absence), but it still feels like there’s a capitalized version of this song out there somewhere.
The kicker about sweet boy is that it is funny and comforting amid its moody state; the interludes are charming reminders that we used to go to shows and chatter on stage and in the audience. “rain” is literally just the sound of rain following the emotional crash of “stones,” a sort of penance for the noise. It feels like “a hundred and fifty” is where Moore wants to live, but circumstances have forced him into “stones.” The existence of “rain” is a fitting, self-aware interlude that does a lot more effective work than most interludes.
Riley Moore’s sweet boy is a little EP that achieves way more than it really should be expected to. Everything here, even the interludes and song titles and art (I’ll leave that for you to ponder), serves to tell a story of a time in Moore’s life. Maybe it can be a time in your life too. If you haven’t heard Moore’s evocative, impressive indie-folk yet, you will soon–you can jump on the bandwagon now or later. Highly recommended.